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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 36, Issue 2, 2016

Front Matter and Table of Contents

Special Feature Articles: Plant Use by Complex Hunter-Gatherers: Paleoethnobotanical Studies in California

The Promise of Microbotanical Research in California: A Case Study from CA-SBA-53, a Middle Holocene Archaeological Site along Goleta Slough

Ancient starch research is a burgeoning field in archaeology, and is growing in popularity in California. This study looks at starch granules extracted from groundstone tools found at CA-SBA-53, a large middle Holocene site on the Goleta Slough. The middle Holocene is one of the least understood time periods in the Santa Barbara Channel region; little in particular is known about subsistence practices, and even less about plant usage. Understanding subsistence can shed light on other questions relating to settlement patterns, seasonality, and even social organization during this period. This study’s findings suggest that acorns were part of the middle Holocene diet 5,500 years ago, and made up 15% of the starch assemblage. However, more research is needed to contextualize these findings, both in relationship to other taxa consumed, and to other time periods in prehistory.

Changing Palates and Resources: Regional and Diachronic Trends in Plant Use in Prehistoric California

Despite considerable differences in plant communities across western California, the region’s hunter-gatherers often have been viewed as having a broadly similar plant resource orientation. The paper re-assesses this perspective by explicitly examining spatial and temporal variation in plant use west of the Sierra Nevada. In doing so, the study capitalizes on a growing body of paleoethnobotanical data to explore similarities and differences in plant food resource emphasis across six main regions in western California. Discussion emphasizes trends in the relative reliance on exploited resources, focusing on three main plant food groups—seeds, nuts, and geophytes—the ‘Sister Trilogy of California.’ The results provide an archaeological baseline to explore to what degree observed spatio-temporal patterns in plant use are primarily a function of resource distribution and density, and in what contexts social factors (such as investment in labor, risk assessment, population density, settlement organization, and cultural preference) play a more prominent role.

The Macrofossil and Starch Grain Evidence for the Use of Root Crops in the Owens Valley, California, Including Two Potentially Irrigated Taxa

The Owens Valley Paiute practice of irrigating wild tuberous plants was reported in early historical accounts and later by ethnographer Julian Steward and others. Despite the ethnographic evidence, archaeological traces of the root crops themselves have proven elusive until relatively recently. Excavations at four sites along the length of the valley have produced carbonized macrofossils of Cyperus esculentus (nut grass), which is believed to be taboose, one of the irrigated crops Steward reported. Many of the contexts with taboose macrofossils have been radiometrically dated and range in age from 2,300 years B.P. to statistically modern at a two sigma calibration. This paper examines the archaeological evidence for root crop use, consisting of carbonized Cyperus esculentus macrofossils from 17 contexts at four sites and samples of starch residues on groundstone artifacts from one site. These data are then examined in relationship to diachronic trends in plant use in the Owens Valley.

Prehistoric Food Intensification in the Santa Clara Valley

The Santa Clara Valley archaeobotanical record spans the central California Early, Middle, and Late periods. Sites CA‑SCL-12, -478, -674, and -919 have robust assemblages of plant remains from distinct periods which are used here to evaluate alternative models of plant use in interior and bayshore settings. The interior model is a better fit for the Santa Clara Valley, even for the near-shore site SCL-12. The existence in the South Bay of poorer and more difficult to access aquatic faunal resources appears to explain the greater focus on plant foods there than in the East and North Bay.

 Early Limits to the Central California Acorn Economy in the Lower Sacramento Valley

The Sacramento Valley bottom has one of the richest archaeological records in California despite poor nut-crop resources that are the hallmark of California Indian subsistence. The nut-poor habitat fostered much earlier intensification of low-ranked small seeds in the Valley bottom than contemporaneous sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and North Coast Ranges, including a focus on use of goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) seeds unique to central California. The Sacramento Valley also has the only central California record of intensive use of Themidaceae (Brodiaea complex) geophyte corms, suggesting these root crops were also low-ranked plant foods.


 A New Look At Some Old Data: The Nisenan Photographs of Alexander W. Chase

In 1877, Stephen Powers wrote an extended passage on the topic of money and wealth among Native Californians, and illustrated it by itemizing the treasured possessions of a specific Nisenan chief’s family. His account was originally accompanied by four woodcuts based on photographs created in 1874 by Alexander Chase; those photographs are reproduced here, and compared with several additional images from the 1850s to suggest other possible social ramifications of some of the ‘wealth’ items on Powers’ list.

 Tales of Power from Ivan Hanson’s Sweat Lodge

This paper recounts some of the extraordinary events associated with the career of Ivan Hanson, a Newe or Shoshone healer from Panamint Valley, California, and a disciple of Northern Arapaho religious innovator, Raymond Harris. As told by Ivan Hanson’s offspring, Gayle Hanson-Johnson, Joann Johnson, and Walter Hanson, these events essentially occurred at Campbell Ranch, a federal reservation in Mason Valley, Nevada, where their father and mother established a chapter of this neo-traditional religion from 1969 –1974.

 The CA-SCR-9 Archaeofauna: Insights into Prey Choice, Seasonality, and Processing

Excavations of the Bonny Doon site (CA-SCR-9) in the Santa Cruz Mountains of northern Santa Cruz County, California by Hylkema in the late 1980s recovered a large and well-preserved faunal assemblage that spans the Early-Middle Period transition. With over 8,000 recorded specimens (from an estimated 12,000 total number of specimens [NSP]) and with demonstrated sampling to redundancy, the SCR-9 assemblage is one of the largest faunal samples in the region, and only the second published at this level of specificity. Analysis of the SCR-9 assemblage shows there were no changes in prey choice or handling in this part of the California central coast during the site’s occupation, while the presence of northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) suggests the site’s inhabitants were connected to fur seal hunting at Año Nuevo Point. Notably, there is evidence for intensive exploitation of cervid bone nutrients, a pattern that may be typical of inland sites in this region.

 Sea Mammal Hunting and Site Seasonality on Western San Miguel Island, California

Point Bennett, on western San Miguel Island, California, was an important location for sea mammal hunting through time. We use stable oxygen isotopic (δ18O) measurements from California mussel (Mytilus californianus) shells to reconstruct a seasonal pattern of mussel harvesting by the human occupants of Point Bennett during three time intervals dated to the middle (~7,550 – 3,600 cal B.P.; CA-SMI-528, Stratum 3) and late (after ~3,600 cal B.P.; CA‑SMI-528, Stratum 1; CASMI-602) Holocene. During both periods of occupation at CA-SMI-528, mussel harvesting was primarily during the spring, coincident with onshore sea mammal breeding. This suggests a seasonal pattern of site occupation. At CA-SMI-602, mussel harvesting primarily occurred during the summer and fall. This is opposite when sea mammals are present in highest densities, suggesting year-round occupation. This shows how seasonality of mussel harvesting can be used alongside other indicators like seasonal availability of sea mammals to understand broader patterns of human mobility.

 Berlin’s Ethnological Museum: The California Indian Collection

The Ethnologisches Museum: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (formerly the Museum für Völkerkunde, and referred to here as the Berlin Ethnological Museum) contains over 1,000 artifacts fashioned by California Indians, collected between 1837 and 1914. The collection is rich and varied; it represents one of the earliest ethnographic collections from Native California and includes ethnological treasures of great aesthetic quality and rarity. The collection is an invaluable source of scientific information and cultural renewal. The objects are highly regarded by living descendants of the Native Californians who long ago sold, traded, and exchanged these artifacts with collectors. They are heirlooms reflecting tribal history and culture, and are worthy of remembrance and study. In this paper we offer first-hand observations on a small sample (n =10) of the Berlin Ethnological Museum’s California Indian collection, with a particular emphasis on baskets. We describe and discuss these objects in detail in order to bring to life the people and cultures that brilliantly produced such exquisite, artistic objects and ethnographic treasures. We also attempt to identify their historical context and the circumstances motivating their collection, so as to better understand how they came to be curated in Berlin. Finally, we provide a brief overview of the history and development of the Berlin Ethnological Museum’s California Indian collection, because the intriguing interconnections and influential coincidences associated with it provide insights into the history and nature of the early development of California Indian studies and particularly illuminate the evolution of the science of anthropology as an academic discipline in America.

Analyses of Household Artifacts from Rattlesnake Cave (35LK1295), A Site in the Chewaucan Basin of Southeast Oregon

Rattlesnake Cave is located on the western shore of Lake Abert in the northern Great Basin of southeast Oregon, one of hundreds of archaeological sites in the Lake Abert/Chewaucan Basin. The site was dug by collectors in the 1950s, and recovered materials were donated to the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society and Homestead Museum in the early 1990s. We analyze 77 artifacts in the assemblage, which includes cordage, basketry, moccasins, as well as wood, bone, and stone tools. We report new radiocarbon (14C) dates for the site, and the results of energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) on one basalt and nine obsidian bifaces, matching their chemical signatures to regional geologic sources. We discuss the place of Rattlesnake Cave in the broader context of the northern Great Basin while demonstrating how museum collections may contribute to addressing anthropological research questions.

Back Matter